Toward a more diverse GOP

Republicans are letting “a hundred flowers bloom” as we re-establish the roots of our party. Continuing down the furrow we began plowing last week, let’s look at some more of the “best of the best” ideas being proposed for revitalization of the GOP.

A theme running through most commentaries is the need to broaden the political targets of our campaigns.

There is wide-ranging consensus that “the base” is not enough to win. The McCain-Palin ticket did very well with our core of rural residents and conservative Republicans and still lost. But beyond the recognition that the base needs some help, there is only scattered agreement on appropriate secondary targets.

David Frum is concerned about Republicans’ standing among college graduates. He sees the need for painful changes to win back these educated voters — voters who now believe “their money is safe with the Democrats.” Frum envisions a change in the GOP issue agenda, and perhaps more painfully, for “changes of style and tone: toward a future that is less overtly religious, and less polarizing on social issues.”

Retiring Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, who saw his seat taken by the Democrats, joins Frum in fretting about the party’s alienation of educated voters, but he wants to target educated suburbanites. “The suburban vote is steadily slipping away,” Davis said recently, “and the party’s trying to ignore it and pretend it’s not happening.”

Another demographic target being widely discussed in Republican renaissance discussions is the Hispanic or Latino population. George Bush, of course, pulled an above-average share of Hispanics in his gubernatorial and presidential elections, perhaps lulling some Republicans to sleep regarding our potential to earn 35 to 40 percent of this vote. But Bush is now gone, Sen. Mel Martinez (Fla.) is no longer chairman of the party, the Republican share of the Latino vote is lagging, and it will be hard to win back.

Zachary Kushel, a former McCain operative, wrote recently in the The Cornell Daily Sun of the anticipated growth in Hispanic and African-American populations by 2020: “The installation of Mel Martinez as Chairman of the RNC [Republican National Committee] was short-lived and ended with xenophobic impulses successfully derailing the bipartisan immigration reform bill. For the party to make a legitimate claim of progress and inclusiveness, there will have to be marked improvement in diversity over the next two election cycles.”

After the Republican share of the Hispanic vote fell to 30 percent in 2006 and 31 percent this year, Martinez himself recently said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “The very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans … there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric … we’re going to be relegated to minority status.”

Another target being widely championed is the youth vote. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is saying that the GOP needs to be “freshened up” to overcome the notion that we’re “stuck in a 30-year-old feel in tone and image” that prevents us from becoming the “more forward-looking, newer, younger, more diverse party” we need.

Not everyone agrees with all this outreach and diversity talk, of course. Recently, Rush Limbaugh said, “We start going after groups of Americans, the middle class, Wal-Mart people and then the Kmart people and let’s go get the Starbucks crowd and let’s go get this group, Hispanics. Loser — we just did that! We just did it. The architects of this should be disqualified from running another Republican campaign.” Rush thinks that the winning way is to focus even more on our conservative values. “We can get women, we can get everybody with a set of core principles.”

More seeds of change next time.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.